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The Latin beat, aromas and vivid colors greeted our arrival in Little Havana. My friend Joan and I were invited by Miami Culinary Tours to join one of their walks in Little Havana led by Mirka Harris.
You can not pass a coffee bar without taking in the warm aroma of sweet cafecito and chatting with the locals. Venture into a cigar shop to watch the able hands of an experienced cigar maker, stretching, layering and rolling the deep brown subtle tobacco leaves and comfortable seating areas where cigar smoke fills the air as locals relax with their favorite brand. The sound of dominoes being tossed onto the table draws you to Domino Park as people play this game with intensity and friends stand around anxiously watching and playing along with their eyes as each move is made. The atmosphere is electric and game after game continues all afternoon. Little Havana is colorful from the murals painted on buildings, the vibrant works in art galleries to the Cuban culture and friendly people who are always willing to have their photo taken.
We started at the gallery of Midlrey Guillot, who was there to greet us and give us a little story of her life and how she came to paint mostly women and what they are passionate about. She says “after all it is what I know best as I am a woman”.
We visited several restaurants where we sampled Cuban food as our guide Mirka explained the traditional way it is prepared and eaten. We moved on to bakeries and markets, discovering the beautiful colors of the ingredients used to prepare these famous Cuban dishes. Like many Latin cultures food is what brings families and friends together from happy occasions to sad. It is about the deep sense of life and connections between them that make up their social world.
We tasted a cold sweet drink made with sugar cane, flaky pastries filled with guava fruit, typical Cuban sandwiches and plantain cups filed with chicken and beef. The final stop was Azurcar, the famous ice cream shop where we had the dilemma of selecting one of their many flavors. A very good way to end a culinary tour after walking around Little Havana on a sunny afternoon.
The story of coffee began in the East, in about 400 B.C. The first coffee traders were the inhabitants of Ethiopia. The trade then moved to the southernmost part of the Arabian Peninsula. Later, Yemen became the nerve center for the coffee trade. There are many legends telling of the origins of coffee, historic, religious, popular, each of them with varying degrees of popularity.
In the West, coffee first became popular in Venice. It is believed that the first coffee shop opened in 1640. It was an instant success and both the coffee “Bar” and the beverage spread to every Italian city.
Drinking expresso is a phenomenon marked by a ritual in Italy.
The Italian name for a bartender is “barista”. A bartender is considered a profession in Italy and is the professional operator of an expresso machine. A pre-warmed demitasse is a small cup used for espresso. The foam floating on the top of the coffee is called “crema”.
The Italian Bar is the center of social life in Italy. It is where Italians have their breakfast that mostly consists of a cappuccino with a sweet roll usually filled with jam. The bars also serve freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, small sandwiches, liquors and sometimes gelati. Italians drop in several times a day for an expresso and meet for a glass of wine after work. The atmosphere is warm and inviting and filled with the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans. The Italian Bar is a way of life; it is everyone’s living room or office where friends meet and business is conducted. You are never alone in Italy because there is always a bar close by. If the tables are occupied, and you see a free seat, you simply ask if it is free and join the others at the table. One always pays for their order first at the “Cassa”. You can sit all day in a bar if you wish without ever being asked to order anything else. Scurrying waiters deliver “expressi” from local bar’s balancing trays in one hand to offices in the surrounding area. The activity is constant and the common link is the “espresso”.
On a recent visit to Modena, although it was a cool day, people wrapped in coats and scarves sat outside sipping their espresso. Weather does not interrupt the coffee “pausa”. It almost seems as if drinking expresso is an addiction, but it is a lifestyle. I remember when I took my brother on his first visit to Italy; this tradition was astonishing to him. The Bars on every corner filled with Italians drinking what he called their ” teaspoon of coffee” was an attraction in itself. To walk by a Bar and not go in is totally impossible to do. The aroma lures you in and you find yourself sipping an expresso without even thinking about it.
It is said that four “Ms“ are key to a good espresso: miscela (blend), macinazione (grind), macchina (machine), and mano (hand).
The term “espresso” was translated from the Italian “esprimere” meaning “pressed out” or “express”. In Italy it is simply called caffé.
An espresso machine forces water at 90 °C (195 °F) and 15 bar of pressure through a puck of finely ground coffee. This produces a rich, beverage by extracting and emulsifying the oils in the ground coffee. An espresso machine also has a steam element, which is used to steam and froth milk for cappuccino and latte.
The flowing list the different types of coffee prepared in a typical Italian Bar.
Caffè or espresso
Decafinato – a decafnated espresso
Ristretto – the espresso amount of coffee with half the water it is very concentrated
Doppio – (“Double”) Double shot of espresso.
Caffè lungo – a long coffee, more water is added and the coffee is weaker
Cappuccino – espresso with steamed milk and foam. Italians drink cappuccino only at breakfast
Macchiato – espresso with just a bit of steamed milk on top
Corretto – espresso with a little liquor, usually Grappa or Sambuca
Latte – short espresso with hot milk
Caffè con zucchero – espresso with sugar. Usually you add your own.